Schenectady County

Cleanup in Burrell Park raises memories, spirits

Two-year-old Mekhi Collins ran across the grass at Jerry Burrell Park in Hamilton Hill on Sunday, dr

Two-year-old Mekhi Collins ran across the grass at Jerry Burrell Park in Hamilton Hill on Sunday, dragging a rake, blonde curls flying. “Good job!” his mother, Kolleen Collins, 26, of Schenectady, encouraged. Mother and son were at the park to help with a cleanup effort organized by Kolleen’s brother, Kelsey Collins.

Dead leaves and empty plastic cups flew across the long grass as a small group of volunteers braved a light drizzle to spruce up the park. Their bright pink name tags fluttered cheerily in the breeze as they raked, picked up trash and swept. Three kids played basketball on the basketball courts, but the rest of the park was deserted except for the volunteers.

Both Kolleen and Kelsey Collins have many happy childhood memories of days spent in Jerry Burrell Park. “From when I woke up till when I went to bed, I was here. This was my life for every day in the summer. There were basketball tournaments and just events going on all the time,” Kelsey, 21, recounted. “The best memories I had were from here in all my life.”

Things have changed at the park, the siblings agree. It’s now perceived as a dangerous place, so families stay away, Kelsey said. “It’s dead. There’s not many kids out here,” he said. “Back five, ten years ago, this place was packed. There was people on the sidelines, watching the games, people talking, just being a community.” The park, he believes, doesn’t deserve its bad reputation, despite the neighborhood’s high crime rate. “There’s crime everywhere,” he said. It just happens to get publicized a little bit more here, just because of the area.”

Kelsey, a YMCA case manager who has lived in Hamilton Hill all his life, aims to make Jerry Burrell Park as family friendly as possible, like it was when he played there as a child. Sunday’s cleanup effort, he hopes, was a step in that direction.

If the park is kept up, it will encourage more families to use it, agreed volunteer Porsha Mathais, 21, of Gloversville, who was busy raking leaves. “People walk by and see a dirty park, and they don’t really want their kids coming in,” she said.

Durett Miles, 23, of Schenectady, was picking up trash that had blown up against the fence on the basketball courts. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was 5 years old. I started on these courts right here,” he said, “and I ended up getting a scholarship to college, so I owe a lot to Jerry Burrell.”

Miles, who graduated from Le Moyne College in Syracuse in 2010, came to the park cleanup in hopes of setting a good example for the young people of Schenectady. “I’m hoping this can be one step toward something bigger,” he said. “This, right now, is just taking back Jerry Burrell Park, but hopefully we can take back Schenectady. This one thing can hopefully spark something a lot bigger than ourselves.”

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